Rules for What We See

A decision last month by the East Hampton Town Board to toughen the rules about outdoor lighting, in particular to end the use of strings of bulbs to create outdoor gathering spaces at restaurants and nightclubs, is a good one. But whether it will be enforced is another question.

Officials have found it very difficult to limit the spread of bars and other establishments onto their lawns for crowds that can often number in the hundreds. By cutting the lights, so to speak, the town could tamp down on the party scene. As written in the new law, “The need for clarification has arisen as commercial properties are more frequently utilizing string lighting to delineate new, unapproved, outdoor areas for commercial use.” (Holiday lights will continue to be allowed, but limited to between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15.)

The effectiveness of the new rules will, once again, come down to how the Ordinance Enforcement Department performs. This is questionable, since it has for a long time had a near-perfect blind spot about lighting. This page has for years complained that a section of the East Hampton Town code prohibiting “internally illuminated” signs is essentially ignored. So, too, are many aspects of the more recent lighting rules. 

Yes, the Planning and Building Departments, as well as the appointed boards, follow the rules, but once something is built it seems anything goes. To some degree, string lights with visible filaments are already prohibited under the town’s dark-sky regulations; why no one in authority has noticed is a mystery.

We hope that the town’s code enforcers begin paying more attention. If there is one thing that should be easy to police it is the lighting law.